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Disappearing act

7/29/2009

Let's start this article off with a little magic. Let's go back in time to the summer of 2004. The U.S. sport fishing world is focused on an experimental event taking place in Madison, Wis. It's a combination bass and walleye tournament at The Great Outdoor Games. It featured some of the top BASS pros along with some of the best pros from the world of walleye tournament fishing..

The crowds went wild for the weigh-ins. Thousands upon thousands of folks were at the event and couldn't wait to see the BASS and walleye heroes grace the stage with fish and stories of the competition.

I was fortunate enough to be covering that event, and let me tell you from my view, it was a huge success. Finally, the major walleye pros were getting the national recognition they deserved. They had emerged from their perceived cocoon of dragging worms around and looking like small versions of Paul Bunyan spouting "Ya, hey dare" and "you betchyas."

The walleye pros in the summer of 2004 were accepted as equals by the sport fishing world. Then, 2005 came and it all dissolved.

From that pinnacle in 2004, the professional walleye angler has certainly fell on tough times. One of the most prestigious tournament circuits ever developed, heck Al and Ron Lindner founded it, the Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) closed shop after the 2008 season. That once great juggernaut of a tournament organization went out with the softest of whimpers.

Even with the PWT relegated to the history books, the current crop of pro walleye trails can't come close to filling their fields. The FLW, MWC (Masters Walleye Circuit) and the new AIM (Anglers Insight Marketing) are by all accounts struggling mightily.

So, is this the end for pro walleye fishing as a premier fishing tournament game? Could be, but I hope not.

I think they need to open their eyes to the reality that they need an infusion of new ideas and marketing. What they have now sure isn't drawing folks to their events or competitions. The stuff produced for public consumption is painfully boring to watch.

However, if you've ever gone walleye fishing, it's a lot of fun. So, one thought for the walleye brethren is to stop pretending you are so darn intellectually superior to your bass buddies.

Save me the whining. You walleye guys do act that way. All you have to do is check out walleyecentral.com and you can see all of the slams and insults leveled at bass anglers lacking true angling skill, knowledge of electronics, etc.

Another reality is that these anglers need to start treating the sport as a business. At this year's ICAST event in Orlando, Fla., plenty of the big-name, and many not so big-name, BASS and FLW pros were in attendance.

These folks were either working for their sponsors or were attempting to create new business relationships.

As far as the walleye pros in attendance, there were three, and they are all related. OK, there were two more, but they either own a company that was there or are in marketing and had to be there.

Now many of the walleye pros were fishing an FLW event, but there were many who were not and decided not to be there. Walleye tournament anglers need to realize this is a business and not just an excuse to gather, fish, beef about the spouse and sponsors (often one in the same) and drink beer.

On the flipside, sponsors need to wake up to the extreme value walleye tournament pros offer. First off, they are a relative bargain in this market.

Secondly, this is especially true for boat, motor and electronics sponsors, they truly put the equipment through extreme use. It's not uncommon for these cats to go blasting through 6-foot waves on the Great Lakes and truly test the endurance of the products they use.

Plus, motor sponsors need to remember that walleye anglers need two of your products to operate, a main engine and a kicker. For every tournament walleye angler you recruit, it's two motor sales, not just one. These are the most extreme freshwater anglers out there and as sponsors you need to promote them as such, help make them appear cool to your customers.

I have no idea if the world of pro walleye fishing will survive in its current diminished form or disappear all together. For me, I long for the summer of 2004 in Madison, when all was right with the pro walleye tournament world.

Dave and Kristin Landahl host The Fishing Fanatics radio show on ESPN radio affiliate AM 1360 WLBK in northern Illinois Thursday evenings from 6-7 PM Central time. You can also tune in to hear The Fishing Fanatics at www.1360wlbk.com and check them out at www.walleyecentral.com